Cultural Blog 2: Thinking & Learning Style

Before starting DBC, we were asked to take some basic personality tests in order to better understand our learning styles. The first was the VAK Test, which tells you what you probably already know: whether you learn better by seeing something done, reading about it, or practicing it yourself. I fall into the kinesthetic group, which means that I want to get in and get my hands dirty. I learn best by doing, experimenting, breaking, fixing.

The other test we took was the Gregorc Thinking Style test. According to the results, people fall into one of four groups: They like structure and following an ordered process (Concrete Sequential), they use their analytical powers to find answers (Abstract Sequential), they take risks and experiment (Concrete Random), or they prefer to sit in a drum circle and talk about their feelings (Abstract Random). Just kidding about that last one, but AR folks tend to focus more on bringing folks together than actually solving a specific problem. In trying to figure out which Style I fit into, I experienced a bit of identity crisis. There are definitely pieces of each that I feel pulled towards, but the question is which one am I most comfortable with when I think specifically about learning new, foreign material? For that, I have to pick CS: Concrete Sequential.

So here I am. I learn best by receiving detailed, ordered instructions that provide new information incrementally, always adding on to previous material. I can then apply those instructions best and commit them to memory by physically doing the task myself. This sounds a lot like me, especially when I consider the weaknesses of my learning style: a CS prefers to work alone, rather than in groups. A CS also wants discussions to get to the point without veering off topic, and they can’t stand problems that don’t have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Does this mean I’m not creative, that I can’t ‘think outside the box,’ that I can’t experiment? Not at all. In fact, I’d much rather consider myself a Concrete Random learner, but only after I’ve developed an initial comfort with the material.

When considering my biggest struggle at DBC thus far, I came to the conclusion that it’s all centered around the feeling of ‘doing enough.’ Am I gleaning enough information from the chapters? Am I taking enough away from the bonus challenges? Will there be time for me to read the other guides and books that have been suggested? I realize my feelings of inadequacy come from my ‘completionist’ mindset: If I read all of the books, I will know enough and become a good web developer. I’m reminded of how this played when I was a child: if I play every single part of this video game, it will be 100% complete and I can feel like I accomplished something.

It’s not necessarily bad to want to absorb every bit of information, but the danger comes in focusing more on completing than on actual retention. I want to be good enough to get through DBC, but I also have to have the desire/will/determination to continue with my learning after the program ends.

Another bit of self-discovery we had to do before DBC: thinking about the Growth vs Fixed Mindset. Essentially, people with Fixed Mindsets have a lot of trouble learning new and foreign material because they believe that they are past the point of learning the ‘new.’ The saying ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ applies to them, or so they think. This mindset becomes more prevalent the older you get, which is why you so rarely see people starting completely new careers late in life. They’re set in their ways and they don’t believe they could possibly learn something new when it pertains to a different career path. It’s also seen in younger people, though usually the challenge is more subtle: ‘I can’t change majors, I couldn’t possibly learn all of that new information.’ ‘I don’t cook because it would be too hard to learn.’ ‘I want to learn a new language, but I couldn’t possibly do it now.’ The list of excuses goes on.

The Growth Mindset, on the other hand, should be the desired mentality of everyone with a heart beat. They don’t shy away from the challenge, they widen their stance and rush into it. No path is too difficult, too dangerous, or too long. The satisfaction comes in learning, not just in completion.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d really like to be able to think of myself as not just a Concrete Sequential learner, but a Concrete Random learner as well, with the ability to look at a problem from a different point of view and experiment with the solution using different methods. Part of my challenge with DBC will be to do just that - move from the mindset of needing instructions and structure to being able to open up my little organized box and be comfortable with the unknown. I want to be able to find the answer not just by reading the chapter of a book, but by discovering it through my own experimentation.

Really, though, I just want to learn everything, retain everything, and be the best at everything. I think that’s an achievable goal. My name is Edwin Unger, and I’m a web developer. Sort of.